AP Decision Notes: What to expect in North Dakota’s GOP caucuses

WASHINGTON — North Dakota will hold its Republican presidential caucuses on Monday, the last chance for Donald Trump’s rivals for the Republican nomination to slow his momentum heading into Super Tuesday, the biggest day of the primaries, when 15 states will hold contests.

Trump’s main opponent in North Dakota will again be Nikki Haley, who has yet to score a victory in her bid to take on Democratic President Joe Biden in the November general election.

Trump has won every primary and caucus in which he appeared on the ballot this year, and the former president has the support of the state’s political establishment. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum ended his own White House campaign in December and endorsed Trump the day before the Iowa caucuses in January.

The North Dakota caucuses function more like a party-led primary than the old Iowa-style caucuses, with voters moving around the room to form groups. In North Dakota, people can show up at any time during caucus hours, cast a secret ballot and leave once they’ve voted.

North Dakota had already held state-run presidential primaries in 1912, when U.S. Senator Robert La Follette of Wisconsin defeated former President Theodore Roosevelt and President William Howard Taft. But the state hasn’t had a traditional presidential primary since the 1996 campaign. After that election, the legislature eliminated presidential primaries, and both parties have held presidential caucuses since then.

A look at what to expect on election night:

The caucuses are open from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM EST, which is from 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM CST and from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM MST. Most of the state is in the Central time zone, while eight counties are in the Mountain time zone. There are three provinces in both.

The candidates on the ballot are Trump, Haley and Florida businessman David Stuckenberg. Texas businessman and pastor Ryan Binkley also qualified for the ballot, but he ended his campaign last Tuesday, and the state party’s practice so far has been to remove candidates from the ballot as soon as they drop out.

Participants in the Caucus must be members of the Republican Party of North Dakota, which requires a minimum $50 membership fee, or they must sign a statement indicating their intention to join the party.

All 29 Republican delegates in North Dakota will be awarded to the candidate who receives 60% or more of the votes in the statewide caucus. If no candidate receives 60% of the vote, delegates are awarded proportionately to the candidates based on the statewide vote. Candidates must receive at least 20% of the votes to be eligible for any delegates.

North Dakota’s voting history and political demographics make it likely that Trump will continue his winning streak heading into Super Tuesday the following day.

In previous elections this year, Haley has performed best among voters who live in areas that vote Democratic in a general election. In North Dakota the harvest is small. Biden carried only two small counties in the 2020 general election. Her best chance is to pull off a big win in vote-rich Cass County, home to Fargo, the state’s most populous city. Trump narrowly carried Cass with just under 50% of the vote, compared to almost 47% for Biden.

There are twelve voting centers in the state, including in the population centers of Fargo, Bismarck, Grand Forks and Minot. Dickinson has the only voting center in the part of the state in the Mountain time zone. Voters are not assigned to a specific location and can cast their vote at any location they choose.

The Associated Press does not make predictions and will only declare a winner if it is certain that there is no scenario that will allow the trailing candidates to close the gap. If no race is called, the AP will continue to report on any newsworthy developments, such as concessions to candidates or declarations of victory. The AP will make it clear that it has not yet declared a winner and explain why.

The state party says it has prepared 30,000 ballots for the caucuses. North Dakota Republicans last held contested presidential caucuses in 2012, when about 11,300 ballots were cast. The 2008 caucuses had just under 9,600 votes cast. In 2016, the party held direct election of delegates to the state convention; no presidential preference vote was held. Early voting and absentee voting are not permitted during the caucuses.

The state party has requested that the 12 caucus locations report their results by 9:30 PM EST and no later than 10:30 PM EST. The AP expects the first votes around 9:15 PM EST, with a final update possible shortly after 10:30 PM EST.

As of Monday, there are 133 days until the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, and 246 days until the November general election.